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08/06/09 7:42 PM ET
Maturing Hunter delivers Rangers win
Texas thwarts sweep behind righty's seven strong frames
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
OAKLAND -- Rangers rookie pitcher Tommy Hunter has shown for the past month or so that he can throw four pitches for strikes and win at the Major League level. On Thursday afternoon, he showed something else. He showed grit and determination. He showed he could put the brakes on a losing streak. He showed he could deliver the proverbial shutdown inning. He showed he could overcome early adversity and deliver a big performance when his team needed it. The Rangers needed it badly on Thursday, and Hunter pitched them to a 6-4 victory over the Oakland on a sunny afternoon at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Hunter allowed three runs in seven innings and the Rangers snapped a three-game losing streak. They remain 4 1/2 games behind the Angels, but the teams open a three-game series on Friday night in Anaheim. Hunter sent them into the series on a positive note. "We needed that from Tommy," third baseman Michael Young said. "That was a big performance. They scored two right away, but Tommy locked it up after that. For a young guy, Tommy is poised. He stayed after it and kept competing." Hunter allowed just three hits and three walks while striking out four and is now 4-2 with a 2.63 ERA in eight starts. This may have been his biggest performance considering what happened here the previous three nights, with the Rangers being in danger of getting swept. "It's what I'm supposed to do," Hunter said. "The bullpen had been used up quite a bit and needed to be refreshed going into the Anaheim series. It was nice to give them a break. The big thing was getting a win before a big series. I was glad I could do my job." The Athletics, helped by a throwing error by injured catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, took a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Hunter. But he didn't let it rankle him. Instead, he responded by retiring 13 of the next 14 batters he faced. The one batter who reached -- Cliff Pennington on a bunt hit in the third -- was immediately erased on a double play. "Unbelievable," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "He got whacked in the first inning, came in and said, 'My ball's not moving.' I said, 'Make an adjustment.' He did. He's getting better, so much better. For a guy who didn't have his best stuff, he went out there and still was solid. "It reminded me of Kevin Millwood." While Hunter was doing that, the Rangers fought back against Trevor Cahill. Hank Blalock hit his 21st home run in the second inning. Young, extending his hitting streak to 13 games, tied it with his 18th home run in the third and put the Rangers ahead with an RBI single in the fifth. Each time the Rangers scored in those three innings, Hunter responded with a 1-2-3 effort in the bottom of the inning. "That's what you're supposed to do," Hunter said. "That's the way you like to see it done," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Go out there and keep the momentum in your favor. He did a great job of doing that. He was relaxed and looked under control." The Rangers made it 4-2 in the sixth when Andruw Jones doubled, went to third on Josh Hamilton's infield single and scored on Byrd's sacrifice fly. This time, Hunter couldn't deliver a 1-2-3 inning. He walked Adam Kennedy with one out, and Rajai Davis doubled into the left-center-field gap to make it 4-3. But Hunter refused to buckle. He came back to strike out Jack Cust and get Nomar Garciaparra on a fly to left to end the inning with the Rangers still in the lead. "That could have been ugly right there," Washington said. "They could have gotten back into the game. But he made some pitches and got us back into the dugout." "He limited us to those few hits," Oakland manager Bob Geren said. "I thought we got a couple good swings on him early. We had those early chances, but after that he started settling in pretty well." The Rangers responded to Hunter's clutch pitching. Esteban German walked to lead off the seventh and scored on a double by David Murphy. Jones followed with a single scoring Murphy and the Rangers had a 6-3 lead. Hunter then proceeded to set down the Athletics in order in the seventh and retired for the afternoon with a three-hitter, letting Frank Francisco and C.J. Wilson finish up. "Once Hank got the home run, we got momentum going on our side, and Tommy took it from there," Young said. "That was very big. That was a big performance."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.